...

Lord’s Day 51

Chapter Three: A Serious Limiting Clause 

It is plain, too, that in this parable this, servant was serving the king with the king’s goods. Of himself he had nothing. Perhaps the king had set him over part of his possession. The same is true with men in relation to God. Of themselves they have nothing. They receive their all from God: their talents and powers and means and all their possessions. And with it all man is never anything else than a servant, in duty bound to serve his God in love. Notice also that in the parable the day of reckoning is mentioned. The king calls his servants to give account of what they have done with his goods. This first day of reckoning is not the final day of judgment, for then the servant could not have assumed the unmerciful attitude to his fellow servant any more. But it is the day of the present dispensation, in which God calls men to account through the preaching of His Word, and in which He roars with the thunder of the law, and preaches of righteousness and sin and judgment as well as of grace and mercy and forgiveness to all that hear the gospel. 

Now we read that the king in the parable finds the debtor as soon as he begins to reckon. That he had only begun indicates that this particular debtor is the very first one. This means that in the kingdom of God we are all debtors. And when God begins to reckon, not one of us goes free by nature. Then to, in the parable the immensity of the sum that is owed by this particular servant is emphasized: it is a tremendous sum. We would say: millions of dollars. If any significance may be attached to the number ten thousand, it indicates that we have transgressed the whole law of God a thousand times, and every commandment of it. At any rate, it emphasizes the immensity of our guilt before God, a guilt which we can never pay. This too is emphasized in the parable when it states plainly that the debtor had nothing to pay. And this too is a true picture of the sinner dead in sin and misery. How could he possibly have anything to pay? He owes all to God all the time, and can never pay any back debt. He is dead in sin and misery, and can only increase his debt daily. But now notice the spiritual attitude of this debtor, which shows plainly that he is a reprobate unbeliever. He does not manifest any true contrition and sorrow over sin. On the contrary, he is merely afraid of punishment. Fear that he will be sold, and all that he has, is the motive of his plea. It is evident that he is not delivered from his self-righteousness. He does not ask for mercy and forgiveness, but only for time to pay all the debt he owes to his lord. With the truly penitent it is quite different. He is filled with sorrow after God, and he does not promise to pay, but pleads solely for grace and remission of sins. 

Now notice that this debtor lived under the dispensation of the gospel and in the covenant of God in the outward sense of the word. As we said before, the day of reckoning is not the final day if judgment, but the dispensation of the gospel. And in the outward preaching of the gospel God comes to all that hear not only with the thunder of the law, but also with the announcement of grace to. His elect, to the believer that is sorry for his sins. This was announced to the unmerciful servant. He did not ask for forgiveness. He asked for time, and promised to pay all. Nevertheless, this it is that was proclaimed to him. He is not given time, but he is forgiven his debt. This, then, is the relation. The unmerciful servant represents a man in sin, without true repentance, still self-righteous, promising to do better and to make good in the future for his present debts. To that man, outwardly in the kingdom of God and under the dispensation of the gospel, forgiveness in the blood of Christ is proclaimed. 

But now comes the test. If he really tasted the depth of sin, of sorrow after God, if he really experienced the riches of mercy and of remission of sin, that servant is inevitably merciful and must show mercy to his brethren. If he is not merciful, there is the proof that he never tasted the grace of God, and that, though outwardly it was proclaimed to him that his sins are forgiven, yet the Spirit never witnessed of this unspeakable grace is his heart. And this became evident in his relation to his fellow servant. Mark you well, he was merely a fellow servant, to whom he was supposed to be merciful. And this fellow servant owed him a small debt, a mere hundred pence, insignificant with the ten thousand talents which the unmerciful servant had owed his lord. Thus it is indeed in the kingdom of heaven. In comparison with the great debt which God has forgiven us, we can never owe one another more than the forgiveness of a very insignificant debt. But the servant is unmerciful. He demands his right. He wants immediate payment of the one hundred pence. He forgets all about his own debt, and haughtily attempts to lord it over his fellow servant. He is cruel. He grabs him by the throat. There is no semblance of mercy in the man. He is unforgiving. The man begs for forgiveness. He falls at his feet and humbles himself. But the unmerciful servant would not listen. He cast him into prison until he should have paid all his debt. 

Thus, the unmerciful servant is a picture, not of one that first tasted the grace of God and believed and then fell away, which is impossible, but of the reprobate unbeliever, that indeed heard the proclamation of the mercy of God in the preaching of the gospel, but that never tasted God’s mercy for himself. And the final result is that when the last day of reckoning comes, he is held responsible for his debt, expected to pay all that he owes. He is delivered to the tormentors, and since he has nothing to pay, this means forever. He is cast into hell. 

This, then, is a beautiful illustration of the limiting clause in the fifth petition, “as we forgive our debtors.” Let us not fail to note the comparison: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This means that we fashion our forgiveness of one another after the model of God’s forgiving our trespasses, and that we are so conscious that we have actually done this that we are now able to pray that God may forgive us in the same manner as we have forgiven one, another. This implies several ideas. It means that our debtors desire forgiveness, are sorry for their sins committed against us, and confess their wrong doings. Only in the way of repentance and confession can we obtain forgiveness from God. And only in that same way can we forgive one another. It means more. Perhaps you are strongly inclined to agree with our last remark, and, being rather of an unforgiving spirit, you decide to wait until the brother that sinned against you will come to humble himself before you. But you must remember that God did not wait until you came to Him; but He came to you while you were enemies of God, dead in trespasses and sins, and by His grace quickened you and led you to repentance. Hence, you cannot afford to wait, but must seek the offending brother, and seek to bring him to repentance. It also means that we forgive one another abundantly. There is never an end to God’s forgiveness. Never does God say to us: “So often have I forgiven you, and always you commit the same sins. I will forgive you no more.” There is never a last time with God. He forgiveth abundantly. His mercy is without limit. And so there can be no last time with us. Always again we must forgive the brother that repents, and that too, for Christ’s sake. And the reason for all this is not that our forgiving of one another is a ground or condition for our prayer for forgiveness, for that is Christ and His atoning blood absolutely alone. But in order to receive forgiveness of God, I must have receptivity for that blessed gift of grace. I must be truly sorry for my sins. I must behold and long for the unspeakable mercy of God in Christ. All this is not present as long as I am assuming an unforgiving attitude toward the brethren. There is no more unmistakable sign that I have no true need of forgiveness, and that therefore I am in no condition to receive it from the Lord, than that I shut up my heart against the brethren and assume an attitude of unforgiving pride over against him. If we love not the brother whom we have seen, how can we love God Whom we have not seen? With what measure ye mete, it surely shall be measured to you again. Hence, it is quite impossible to beseech the Lord for forgiveness, unless we can truly add: “As we forgive our debtors.” 

We will now be able to understand what spiritual disposition it requires to utter this petition in spirit and in truth. There must be true sorrow over sin, over sin as such, because it offends God, over all sin, without exception. There must be a sincere desire to be completely delivered from all sin, to be sanctified and to walk before God in true obedience and love. There must be confidence, not in self, but in the blood and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone, as a ground for our prayer. And there must be love of the brethren and the sincere desire to forgive one another. Considering all this, we must no doubt confess that also in regard to this petition we are still far from perfection. How thoughtlessly, superficially, insincerely, we often express the words of this petition. And yet, it is only in the measure that we truly and consciously send this petition to the throne of grace that we can taste the joy of forgiveness, and exclaim with the psalmist: “O the blessedness of the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” May the Lord teach us to pray in sincerity and truth: “Our Father inheaven, forgive us our debts, even as we forgive our debtors.” 

LORD’S DAY 52 

Chapter One: The Idea of Temptation 

Q. 127. Which is the sixth petition? 

A. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;” that is, since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment; and, besides this, since our mortal enemies, the devil, the world, and our own flesh, cease not to assault us, do thou therefore preserve and strengthen us by the power of thy Holy Spirit, that we may not be overcome in this spiritual warfare, but constantly and strenuously may resist our foes, till at last we obtain a complete victory. 

Q. 128. How dost thou conclude thy prayer? 

A. “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever;” that is, all these we ask of thee, because thou, being our King and almighty, art willing and able to give us all good; and all this we pray for, that thereby not we, but thy holy name, may be glorified for ever. 

Q. 129. What doth the word “Amen” signify? 

A. “Amen” signifies, it shall truly and certainly be: for my prayer is more assuredly heard of God, than I feel in my heart that I desire things of him.

There are those who discover in the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer two separate entreaties: the first, “Lead us not into temptation”; the second, “But deliver us from evil.” In that case they find in the perfect prayer seven petitions instead of six. In a way we would be strongly inclined to agree with this view. In that case we would have the number sevenrepresented in the Lord’s Prayer, which is the number of God’s covenant, of the fellowship between God and His people, three being the number of the triune God, while four is the number of the creature. This would be corroborated by the fact that the first three petitions all relate to God, while the last four pertain to the people of God. But although this indeed expresses a beautiful idea, we must nevertheless agree with those that insist that in the perfect prayer there are only six petitions. The question is, of course, purely formal, and not an important one. Yet we must say a few words about it. It certainly must be admitted that from a formal viewpoint everything is in favor of the view that in these two clauses of the sixth petition we have really but one request. They form one sentence, connected by the conjunction “but.” The whole sentence runs parallel to the fifth petition, which also consists of two clauses. And this also is in favor of the view that in this last petition of the Lord’s Prayer we have not two entreaties, but only one prayer. Besides, there is a very close relation between preservation in and from temptation and deliverance from evil. It may be expedient at this time to look at that relation a little more closely. Some understand the connection between the two parts of this petition in such a way that the last part makes provision in case the first part of this prayer is not granted. The meaning then would be: “Lead us not into temptation, but if, we must be led into it, then deliver us out of the evil.” However, this introduces quite arbitrarily a thought into the text that is foreign to it. Besides, it presupposes the possibility that the first part may not be heard. It expresses an element of doubt or unbelief. And this is not to be accepted. In the first place, if the element of doubt is to be introduced into the first part of, this petition, so that it is not heard, the same motive must lie at the basis of the second part, and therefore also that part of the petition will not be granted. But in the second place, this is quite contrary to Holy Writ. For it teaches: “Without faith it is impossible to please God; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Heb. 11:6. Rather must we conceive of the relation between the two parts of this sixth petition to be such that in the first part we ask for the same blessing of grace as in the second, the first clause expressing the thing asked for negatively and in the midst of our present life, where the world, the devil, and our own flesh also tempt us to evil, while the last part expresses the same thought positively: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” However, it must be clear that the last clause, though principally referring to the same matter, also expresses more than the first. For preservation in and from temptation leaves us nevertheless still in this world, and therefore it cannot be final. The Christian cannot rest content with a state in which he must be continually preserved against the temptation of the flesh, the world, and the devil. He wants more. He longs for perfection, for the state in which preservation against temptation is no longer necessary. He looks forward to the complete victory which will come in the state of perfection, in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. In final analysis it is for that victory that he prays in the second part of this sixth petition, “. . . but deliver us from evil.” With all the similarity between the two clauses, therefore, there is sufficient difference to want a separate discussion of the two parts of this prayer. The one part asks for preservation, the other for perfect deliverance. 

It is evident at once that there is a close connection between the preceding petition, which is a prayer for the forgiveness of sins, and this last request of the Lord’s Prayer, which is in principle a petition for victory, and that too, for final victory. The sixth petition looks forward to something else, to a better, a higher, a more blessed state, in which the prayer for forgiveness shall never again be necessary. In the prayer for forgiveness we seek to lay hold on the glorious gift of justification by faith through the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. Justification is the act of God whereby He forever declares us free from sin and clothes us with an eternal righteousness which is imputed to us on the ground of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord. For this unspeakable blessing of God we ask in the fifth petition. And this blessing is very important and essential: for it is basic for all the other blessings of grace. Without this basic blessing we can have nothing, and can receive nothing from God for the simple reason that. He loves the righteous and hates the wicked. Common grace is an absurdity. We must therefore be objectively justified before God in order to receive any of the blessings of His grace. But although justification is first, it cannot be last. Justification changes our legal status before God in judgment. But it leaves our sinful condition unchanged. It delivers us from the guilt of sin, but it leaves us still stained with the pollution of sin. By justification we obtain the right to be delivered from the dominion and power of sin, even as the pardon of a governor gives a criminal the right to be set at liberty. But itself does not liberate us from that power of sin and corruption. Justification, therefore, or the forgiveness of sins, cannot possibly be the end of our salvation. For Christ did not give Himself for us merely in order that we might be redeemed and justified, but that He might “purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works.” Titus 2:14. And in the first part of the eighth chapter of the epistle to the Romans the apostle indeed emphasizes that there is and can be no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus. But he emphasizes throughout that they are those that walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Rom. 8:1-4. And again, in Rom. 6:1-4 we read: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 

H.H.